The Hoos (3-0, 2-0) will be back at it under the lights this Saturday (7:00 PM, ESPN2). On tap are the Old Dominion Monarchs (1-1, 0-0) from the vaunted 757.
Nearly every UVA football fan is aware that ODU beat Virginia Tech at ODU last year in an epic upset. With a visit to South Bend to play Notre Dame on the horizon, the Hoos will be tasked with avoiding the urge to look ahead to that matchup.
If they don't, perhaps another upset could be in the works. But is this edition of ODU football the team that gave Virginia Tech a challenge in the rematch in Blacksburg (a 14-point VPI win)? Or are they the group that barely avoided disaster versus Norfolk State in their season opener (a 3-point ODU win)?
For the first time this season, the white-blue-white combo makes an appearance.
Saturday evening's game will make a bit of history as this is the first meeting between the two programs.
The Hoos and Monarchs currently have two other games on the books. In 2020, the Hoos will make the return trip to Norfolk. And in 2022, ODU is scheduled to play at UVA once again.
Keys To Victory
As of this writing, the Hoos are a consensus 28-point favorite per Sportsline.com. An upset on UVA's homefield would be gigantic. And for many within Virginia, it would let the Hokies off the hook for their loss at ODU last season. What can UVA do to avoid such a fate while running their record to 4-0?
Jump The Monarchs Early
The anatomy of an upset typically includes the favorite making a couple mistakes early or coming out the gates uninspired. The underdog makes a play here or there and seizes an opportunity. Suddenly, the underdog is brimming with confidence. The favorite is either flat on their feet or back on their heels.
Instead of cruising to victory, the favorite has a fight on their hands for four quarters.
The best way to avoid this? Jump on the underdog early. Let them know that you're taking the game seriously and here to assert your dominance.
This is exactly what UVA did to William & Mary in the Hoos' 52 to 17 romp in week two.
The Hoos led the Tribe 21 to 0 by the end of the first quarter. A 28 to 0 lead eventually became 35 to 3 by the half.
Before they scored their first points, the Tribe's drive summary looked like this: 3 and out, pick six surrendered, 3 and out, 4 plays and punt, 3 and out. At that point, they trailed 28 to 0 and had no chance.
In the Hokies loss at ODU last season, the teams entered the half tied at 14. In seven first half possessions (not counting a one play possession prior to the half), the Hokies tallied four punts, an interception, and two touchdowns. And while ODU's first half possessions weren't much to write home about (5 punts, a missed field goal, 2 touchdowns), their touchdowns were in close enough proximity to the Hokies' first half touchdowns to keep their confidence afloat before their offense exploded in the second half.
UVA wants to repeat their effort from week two versus William & Mary. They want no part of a first half similar to the ODU-VT game from 2018.
A Clean Game From Special Teams
While the offense and defense are trying to unseat the Monarchs quickly, the special teams units cannot make the type of mistakes that keep opponents in games.
Against William & Mary, a muffed punt resulted in the Tribe's only three points in the first half. But the kick return unit redeemed the punt return team's error via a 100-yard kick return touchdown by Joe Reed on the ensuing kickoff.
And while the UVA special teams have been pretty good this season, there are some hiccups still taking place. The aforementioned muffed punt, by Chuck Davis, was followed by two dropped punts by Billy Kemp against FSU. Thankfully the Hoos were able to recover both of Kemp's fumbles.
And Brian Delaney has missed a kick in each game this season (field goals versus Pitt and W&M, extra point versus FSU). The missed extra point against the Noles could have been fatal in that game.
Also in the kicking game, a few snaps on field goal and extra point attempts have been less than ideal as the Hoos are breaking in new long snappers this season.
A lot would have to go wrong for these sorts of miscues to cost the Hoos versus ODU. But that's no reason to overlook the importance of special teams.
The Monarchs, for example, go out of their way to make things happen in the third phase of the game. And it's something that Ricky Brumfield's charges will need to be keenly aware of.
In a 2013 game against The Citadel, ODU attempted three onside kicks in the second half. ODU won that game 59 to 58 while recovering two of the three onside kicks. The recoveries resulted in 10 points for the Monarchs.
Explaining his coaching philosophy in comments after the game, Wilder noted "the way I approach it and look at it is, No. 1, I want them to have fun, but No. 2...I always want out football program to be of a very aggressive mindset. I truly believe you need to attack winning."
Catching the Hoos unaware and playing sloppy on special teams is perhaps one way that ODU can mitigate the difference in skill and talent between the teams.
Attack Mode Offense
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has done a mostly good job with the offense this season. Perhaps he's been a bit conservative at times for some (FSU first half perhaps?), maybe he didn't call enough run plays (William & Mary?), and maybe he ran Bryce Perkins too often (Pitt?). But the offense has held up their end of the bargain in each game. And they've put points on the board when needed in close games.
And that brings us to ODU. Here's how their defense stacks up after two games played this season (Norfolk State, Virginia Tech). All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.
|Total Defense||49||335.5 YPG|
|Run Defense||33||100.0 YPG|
|Pass Defense||85||235.5 YPG|
|Pass Efficiency Defense||103||N/A|
|Scoring Defense||74||26.0 PPG|
|Red Zone Defense||106||100% conversion|
|Third Down Defense||129||53.8% conversion|
|Tackles For Loss||41||14 TFL|
|Sacks||100||3 sacks (1.5 SPG)|
The Monarchs look weakest against the pass, in the pass rush, getting off the field on third down, and defending their red zone. Add it up, and you have a defense vulnerable to an attacking offense that strikes first in the air.
Building off Bryce Perkins's second half against FSU, the Hoos should be able to pick up large chunks throughout the air from the start. Attacking ODU with Perkins's legs on second and longs, or third downs especially, should prove successful.
That approach should generate a lot of yards, and points, for the Hoos providing that the OL is in full Rhino mode and Perkins makes a point to limit the plays where he tries to force passes.
The Virginia Tech rush offense is averaging 152 yards per game which is ranked 84th in FBS. The UVA rush offense is averaging a remarkably similar 155 yards per game. That ranks 82nd in FBS. Against ODU, the Hokies ran the ball 39 times for 145 yards (3.4 YPG). They only attempted 28 passes and gained 272 yards on 16 completions.
The Hoos could seek to impose their will against a Conference USA defensive front seven and still win the game on the strength of their defense. That would seem to be the game plan Virginia Tech employed. But that would be a mistake.
Use the pass and Bryce Perkins to set up the running attack as described above. But whatever you do - attack, attack, attack.
The Monarchs are well coached. Bobby Wilder has a good reputation for creating good schemes while also taking calculated risks.
Look for ODU to rely on big, dual threat QB Stone Smartt (6-4 220) and running backs Lala Davis (5-10 205) and Kesean Strong (5-10 197) to grind out yards on the ground while controlling the clock. The Monarchs only averaged 3.4 yards per carry against Norfolk State. But that number jumped to 4.7 yards per carry against the Hokies.
A few wrinkles and risks on special teams are to be expected too.
At the beginning of this preview I asked if the Monarchs are the team that struggled against Norfolk State or had a shot at a second consecutive upset against Virginia Tech. The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle. Because of that, this game will be closer than anticipated by any Wahoo fans expecting a William & Mary like route.
I expect the Hoos to break another rock but not cover the spread.
35 to 10, Hoos win!